Slowly it feels as if we’re able to return to a level of normality. Although it is not quite the same as before, the loosening of social distancing restrictions in shops and restaurants and reopening of schools, gyms and beaches has allowed us to begin living again. I hope this continues, but we all must remain vigilant of our health, and take measures to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Hong Kong economy is under unprecedented pressure. Q1 2020 gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 8.9 percent from the year before. The unemployment rate has increased by 1 percent to 5.2 percent in April. As this is a three-month rolling average rate, this means that for April alone the unemployment rate has gone up by a staggering 3 percent. The outlook for Q2 is still very gloomy, and the full fiscal year GDP forecast has been significantly adjusted downward to -4 to -7 percent.
To preserve jobs and help businesses weather through the doldrums, the government this month announced the introduction of a number of measures through its Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF) and other ways to support the economy. Some of these also offer opportunities for our profession, both in taking advantage of the funding and also supporting the implementation of the schemes. The Institute’s COVID-19 – CPA Information Centre has a subpage on the schemes containing relevant information on the measures. I urge you to explore it.
Implementation details for schemes under the AEF, including the Distance Business (D-Biz) Programme, and Catering Business (Social Distancing) Subsidy Scheme, were announced this month. Practising accountants have a role to play in these schemes by undertaking engagements to support applications for funding. Information about what is expected of them can also be found in the COVID-19 – CPA Information Centre.
I hope members explore the government’s schemes for their own organizations. For instance, the D-Biz Programme offers HK$100,000 per project for up to three projects from 12 categories of IT solutions for developing distance business. The aim of the programme is to support enterprises to continue business and services during the epidemic. Members should consider whether they can take advantage of this and implement new technologies to support their success. Technology is integral to the future of accounting.
“The profession’s resilience and responsiveness continues to impress me, and that is a consequence of our individual actions.”
The Employment Support Scheme (ESS), which provides time-limited financial support of up to HK$9,000 per paid employee per month to employers to retain their employees, could also be of interest to some members. The application for the first tranche of ESS for three months from June to August commenced on 25 May and will last for three weeks.
One of the other major developments this month, which the Institute had been closely working on together with the relevant government departments, was the introduction of quarantine exemptions for some professionals with a need to travel to the Mainland, including practising members or employees of registered practice units who are required to travel to the Mainland to conduct audit work for companies listed in Hong Kong with Mainland operations. I’m pleased that this has been implemented as it will enable our members to carry out their vital tasks, and support Hong Kong’s position as a leading capital centre through enhancing trust in our listed companies. The Institute is the administration body for the scheme, and the relevant practices have been contacted about the application process.
The Institute’s Small and Medium Practices (SMP) Committee has just introduced a new scheme for SMPs to ask questions and receive guidance on technical issues affecting their work. Members-Help-Members will hold quarterly sharing sessions to discuss the questions. Please feel free to ask questions and take part in the upcoming events. SMPs are the backbone of our profession, and I am glad that we are doing more to help them, particularly during these challenging times.
Finally, at the end of the month, I took part in a panel organized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Although, as part of the new normal, it was held as a webinar not a physical event, it was still good to be able to talk about the developments in the profession and how the profession and the Institute have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. The profession’s resilience and responsiveness continues to impress me, and that is a consequence of our individual actions.
As we head into June, we are finalizing our financial planning for the next financial year. We endeavour to support our members at the dawn of this new normal.